Spoken Language Development

HOPE Bulletin
Spoken Language
Ashley Garber, M.S., LSLS Cert. AVT ® and Mary Ellen Nevins, Ed.D. HOPE Specialists
The benchmarks for spoken language development
with the cochlear implant are of particular interest
to speech language pathologists and teachers of
deaf children. The following HOPE Bulletin outlines
general expectations for language development in
light of cochlear implantation.
For children with hearing in the normal range, spoken
language development begins in earnest on the first day of
life. That is when they are first introduced to their parents’ voices
and the sounds and words all around them. As their auditory
skills, vocal skills and cognitive skills develop, they are able to
attach meaning to the sounds that they are hearing and then
reproduce those sounds to convey meaning on their own.
The child with hearing loss, however, does not have access to
all of the sounds of spoken language and is less able then, to
connect the objects and actions that are seen to the spoken
words that represent them. Because hearing aids often do not
provide all of the acoustic features necessary to distinguish one
sound or word from another, even the child that wears hearing
aids receives inconsistent and/or incomplete messages.
Factors that Influence Spoken
Language Development
Almost immediately upon activation, the cochlear implant
affords the user access to all of the sounds of speech. Progress
in spoken language development is therefore dependent on a
number of factors. These may include:
• Age at implantation/duration of deafness – The younger the
child when he receives a cochlear implant, the greater his
potential for developing normal spoken language skills.
• Aided benefit prior to implantation – The greater the benefit
of hearing aids prior to cochlear implantation, the greater the
child’s potential for developing normal spoken language skills.
• Co-occurrence of other developmental issues (e.g.
developmental delay, motor impairments) – Children with
hearing loss may have other challenges, in addition to or
aside from their hearing loss, which will compromise their
progress with spoken language development.
• Level of family involvement and expertise of educational
professionals in maximizing the cochlear implant’s potential
– Spoken language will develop most rapidly when it is
facilitated through a focus on the development of
auditory skills.
Normal Development as a Reference
When the end goal for a child with an implant is the
development of age appropriate spoken language, an approach
that pairs auditory stimuli (sounds and words) with related
objects and actions will allow the child to assign meaning to
sound in the same way that a hearing child would. Parents and
professionals must have patience through the early stages of
auditory awareness in which children primarily take in sounds
rather than producing them. By recognizing that this normal
developmental sequence of auditory growth and language
development applies equally to children that have recently
received implants, parents and early interventionists may
be more committed to provide input even when there is no
immediate expressive response to their efforts.
Milestones of Development.
In general child with a cochlear implant may be expected to
display the following stages of spoken language development:
• An initial period marked by decreased vocalizations
while taking in new auditory stimuli.
• A babbling stage in which the child plays with his
voice and articulators.
• Understanding and use of sound/object associations
and inflected utterances (e.g. “meow” for cat, or “uh-oh”)
where suprasegmentals and early vowel/consonants
are highlighted.
• A period of using single words and jargon (single words
embedded into babble sounds that mimic conversational
speech inflections) along with some learned phrases.
The ultimate goal for children with hearing loss is that they
will begin to learn spoken language at the same rate as their
hearing peers. This typical rate of growth is judged to be “one
year’s progress in one year’s time” Children that receive cochlear
implants at a young age have the potential to achieve this rate
of language growth and may, in fact, catch up to their hearing
peers so that they have comparable spoken language skills.
Spoken language competence sets the stage for continued social,
emotional, and educational growth.
Related Resources
Caleffe-Schenck, N. & Baker, D. (2008). Speech Sounds:
A Guide for Parents and Professionals. Available at
HOPE Online Learning Module "Auditory Therapy."
Available at www.CochlearAmericas.com/HOPE
Moog, J., et al. (2004). Teaching Activities for Children who
are Deaf and Hard of Hearing:A Practical Guide for Teachers.
St. Louis: Moog Center. Available through
[email protected]
Owens, R. (1996). Language Development: An Introduction
(4th ed.). Needham, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Pollack, D., Goldberg, D., & Caleffe-Schenck, N. (1997).
Educational Audiology for the Limited Hearing Infant and
Preschooler: An Auditory-Verbal Program (3rd ed.). Springfield, IL:
Charles C. Thomas Publisher Ltd.
• The combination of known words into novel phrases.
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